According to a pair of industry reports, 2017 was the safest year in the history of commercial aviation. That’s a remarkable feat considering commercial air transportation traffic was up 3 percent from 2016, and as such, according to aviation consultants To70, the fatal accident rate dropped to just one fatal accident for every 16 million flights.
As the aviation industry celebrated this milestone, President Donald Trump took to Twitter, presumably during or after a cable news report on the data this morning, and claimed credit for this feat.
Needless to say, many industry experts instantly disagreed with Trump’s tweet and asked for any evidence that supports his vague statement. They shouldn’t hold their breath, though.
Trump’s claim to have been strict on commercial aviation is a head-scratcher, seeing as his goal has been to make “big changes” to aviation by relaxing “burdensome” regulations, as he promised in a meeting with airline executives early last year. He also signed an executive order that requires federal agencies to eliminate two existing regulations for every new one, and as such the FAA’s Regulatory Reform Task Force investigated potentially “outdated, unnecessary, or ineffective” regulations, while also accepting recommendations from other entities. This resulted in an industry panel targeting “dozens of safety rules” for elimination or revision.
The president has also been a staunch supporter of ATC privatization, of which opponents have argued the transition of the nation’s air traffic control system from the FAA to a nonprofit corporate entity will take several years and cost billions of dollars, upending progress made on modernization.
But what’s most bizarre about Trump’s claim is that the two reports regard worldwide commercial aviation. He has nothing to do with such success. Additionally, as many aviation experts have pointed out since this morning’s tweet, there hasn’t been a fatality resulting from a U.S.-scheduled airline crash since 2009. That’s something that experts and officials attribute to the continued efforts of many people, as mentioned in this Aviation Safety Network report.
“Since 1997 the average number of airliner accidents has shown a steady and persistent decline, for a great deal thanks to the continuing safety-driven efforts by international aviation organisations such as ICAO, IATA, Flight Safety Foundation and the aviation industry,” ASN president Harro Ranter said.
The ASN compiled an “extremely low total” of 10 fatal airliner accidents worldwide that resulted in 44 occupant deaths, in addition to 35 people on the ground. Five of the accidents involved passenger flights, the other five were cargo flights, and none were jets.
The 2017 totals are down from 16 accidents and 303 deaths in 2016. The five-year average is 17 crashes with 495 deaths.
Still, To70 warns “there is no room for complacency” in civil aviation, as there are always considerable risks.
“Despite the good news, a note of caution needs to be sounded,” the agency’s Civil Aviation Safety review states. “Whilst the safety levels of modern civil passenger airplanes remain high, the extraordinarily low accident rate this year must be seen as a case of good fortune. Statistically speaking, in a dataset that starts with over 30 million flights, there is little difference between two accidents and 10 accidents. That this year’s accidents only resulted in 13 fatalities is even greater fortune.”